Douglas Hill
opinion, humor and small town common sense
Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Does Truth Exist?

Can we ever really know Truth? Does such a thing exist? Can we know anything?

The famous 17th Century French mathematician and philosopher, René Descartes, attempting to answer such questions, posited for the immutable foundation from which he was to construct his philosophy, the premise: Cogito, ergo sum. I think, therefore I am. That was to be the incontrovertible certainty forming the starting point of his contemplation. (Even that premise, however, has been challenged.)

What, if anything, of practical value, can be said of the notion of Truth, and our ability to know it?

Our awareness of external objects is made possible by, while simultaneously limited by, our “channels of awareness,” i.e., our senses of sight, sound, touch, smell, and perhaps intellect, although that may merely be a projection of an internal construction (a discussion for another time.) Those are the mechanisms by which we apprehend and form our understanding of an external object. Of the many potential facets inhering in the existence of the object of our perception, we are limited to apprehending only those characteristics that appear to our senses – our channels of awareness. There may well be many other facets or dimensions of the object that escape our observation because we do not have the means (additional channels of awareness) by which to apprehend those dimensions of the object. (It is interesting to note that in the evolution from simple to increasingly complex life forms, additional channels of awareness are introduced as that evolution progresses.)

By the limitations of our perception, perspective is introduced.

A perspective necessarily represents a limited view, rather than a complete view. By analogy, consider a circle of artists drawing an asymmetrical object positioned in the center of their circle. Each, looking at the same object, will draw something different. They will see the object differently, depending upon their vantage point – their perspective. What each artist draws will be true, but only a partial truth, not the whole Truth.

Thinking back to Descartes’ Cogito, an interesting logic arises if one posits instead: I am in pain therefore I am. While the pain is a priori to the rational conclusion, the pain proves nothing – it is merely conscious awareness of pain. Proof is a rational concept, not an existential one; therefore, Descartes was correct in that the first possible, or fundamental, "proof" of ones own existence grows out of the conscious rationalization of the rational existence – the rational consciousness reasons its own existence. Moreover, the concept of "I", as a discrete, bounded subject reveals itself to be a rational construct, and not a predicate of consciousness. Pain, without a rational construct to interpret it, reveals itself to consciousness merely as an awareness that there is pain [pain is] [pain exists]; as opposed to "I" am in pain.

Consciousness conceives of itself as "I" when it is rational consciousness. Further, if pain is experienced consciously only, without a rational self identity, then it is presumably without notions of horror or dread that overlay pain in a rational consciousness that is aware of its discrete contingency. For consciousness without reason there is brightness [the sun], there is wetness [rain], there is pain – as in an extended field of Being in the Heideggerian sense. But even here, in referring to brightness, wetness and pain, we rely on rational concepts. But consciousness precedes and surrounds reason, like Being, and therefore, lying outside of and beyond reason, frustrates rational conception. We cannot wrap our mind around it. And yet, as reason operates within consciousness, consciousness is partially revealed to us. Consciousness is revealed to reason as the total and immediate, indiscriminate awareness of all Being that is present to it. It does not qualify, value or judge. It is as transparent as sight. It illuminates only. There is. And that "is" presents itself to consciousness to the extent that the discrete consciousness is able to apprehend what is present before it through the channels of awareness available to it, i.e. sight, sound, touch, smell, taste, reason.

Some would have us believe that Truth does not exist, that at best, it is a purely relative construct. I’m betting that Truth does exist, in its fullness and immutability, but that we, at this stage of evolution, are too limited in our ability to know it by virtue of our limited channels of awareness.

Yet it is in our constant striving to know Truth that we fulfill our destiny in the evolutionary progression of life -- a march toward Truth.
Henry David Thoreau

Simon & Garfunkel

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